Hickey: 1 thing I learned about every B1G team that played in Week 5
For me, the most interesting storyline in a fairly mild week of Big Ten games involved 1 of the league’s newest faces.
We weren’t going to learn much about Michigan or Penn State in road games they were likely to dominate. But we might learn a lot about Purdue coach Ryan Walters.
Walters’ first month was a struggle.
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The Boilermakers played 2 Power 5 opponents in their non-conference schedule, plus a Group of 5 team (Fresno State) that’s better than either. They opened Big Ten play with their 17th consecutive loss to Wisconsin. And they’ve been terribly sloppy — both turnover and penalty prone.
Without self-inflicted mistakes, Purdue could be undefeated. Instead, it was at a risk of falling to 1-4.
A game against his old boss, Bret Bielema, provided the perfect measuring stick for Walters: in over his head, or rookie head coach who could learn from early mistakes?
A 44-19 win over Illinois later, we have our answer. No B1G coach did a better job making adjustments in Week 5 than Walters, who turned a 16-13 halftime lead into a rout.
Here’s what else was learned in Week 5.
Illinois: The B1G’s biggest disappointment
The Illini lost 3 of the program’s best players in a decade in last spring’s NFL Draft, so maybe it wasn’t realistic to expect an improvement over their 2022 resurgence. But in a weak Big Ten West, Illinois still had enough talent returning that a 2nd straight bowl berth seemed like the bare minimum of what they could do.
Now a bowl looks like it would be an accomplishment. The defense has taken 10 steps back without Walters, as his new team showed in gaining 406 yards on a now lackluster Illinois defense.
This is a bad, bad football team.
Indiana: The B1G’s worst team
There can be no question of it now — the Hoosiers are firmly at the bottom of the Big Ten barrel after a 44-17 loss at Maryland that wasn’t as close as that score indicates.
Northwestern, which held that distinction heading into the season, has turned a corner. So too have the Hoosiers — but in the wrong direction.
Iowa: Cooper DeJean is the new Tim Dwight
When all else fails, Cooper DeJean excels.
DeJean cemented his place as Iowa’s top return man since Tim Dwight with a game-winning 70-yard punt return touchdown in the final minutes at Kinnick Stadium.
HAWKEYES TAKE THE LEAD. 🙌
📺: NBC pic.twitter.com/B6UEmFlLcN
— Big Ten Football (@B1Gfootball) October 1, 2023
Maryland: Should be ranked
The Terps are 5-0 for the first time since 2001, and all 5 wins have been blowouts. Maryland isn’t at the same level as Michigan, Penn State or Ohio State, but it’s pretty evident this is the B1G’s 4th-best team. Time for pollsters to recognize Maryland for what it is: Top 25 material.
Michigan: Nearly flawless
Want an impressive stat? Take your pick with Michigan’s 45-7 win over Nebraska, which probably could have been 70-7 if Jim Harbaugh kept his starters in for the final 1.5 quarters.
The Wolverines came 4 minutes away from being the first team to shut out Nebraska since 1996. Even in allowing the touchdown, the Wolverines have allowed 7 points or less to their first 5 opponents for the first time since 1941.
Then there’s this: Michigan didn’t commit a single penalty.
Michigan State: Sparty tried
At times it looked like Michigan State might have mailed it in its first 2 games without Mel Tucker. Saturday night’s game at Iowa made it clear that the Spartans are actually fighting their tails off — they just aren’t very good.
Michigan State’s beleaguered defense limited Iowa’s beleaguered offense to 222 yards, but the Spartans were undone by 3 Noah Kim interceptions and a late special teams breakdown.
There are not many opportunities for wins remaining on this schedule.
Minnesota: Passed the grit test
The Gophers followed last week’s disaster at Northwestern with more bad news: B1G leading rusher Darius Taylor was ruled out against a game Louisiana squad.
But Minnesota rebounded from a 17-14 halftime deficit, opened the second half on a 21-0 run to put the Ragin’ Cajuns away — the mirror image of last week’s 21-point collapse to the Wildcats.
It was a much-needed morale boost with a huge showdown against Michigan pending.
Nebraska: Never had a chance
This game may have been done the moment the forecast called for a record high of 94 degrees on Sept. 30. Michigan is built to brutalize its opponents, and adding the heat on top of that was a severe disadvantage for Nebraska’s defense.
Michigan held the ball for 38:01 and ran 74 plays to Nebraska’s 46.
Northwestern: Could use better advice
A close game turned on its head thanks to a pair of questionable decisions from interim head coach David Braun.
Down 17-10 in the third quarter, the Cats tried to convert a fourth down from their own 31 with a quarterback sneak against a Penn State defensive front that controlled the whole game.
Northwestern managed to hold Penn State to a field goal on the ensuing drive, keeping the game in range.
On the next Northwestern possession, the Cats failed on a fake punt attempt — again at their own 31 — setting up the Penn State touchdown drive that put the game out of reach.
Penn State: Simply dominant up front
The Nittany Lions have the Big Ten’s best defensive front, and that was on display again at Northwestern. A week after allowing just 76 yards to Iowa, Penn State finished with 12 tackles for loss and 7 sacks against an overwhelmed Wildcats offensive line.
Purdue: Ryan Walters passes his first test
Walters pushed all the right buttons for his first Big Ten win at Purdue. Most notably, he called the plays on defense for the first time this season, and the improvement was obvious. Illinois was a meager 2 of 13 on third downs.
A bowl appearance is now back in the cards for the 2-3 Boilermakers.
Rutgers: Gavin Wimsatt will never be a good QB
If the best you can do against Wagner is 12 of 19 for 146 yards and 7 carries for 15 yards, it’s time to move on. Wimsatt isn’t it. It’s time for Greg Schiano to stop kidding himself. The Scarlet Knights may still reach a bowl game despite his limitations, but quarterback is the position holding this program back.